A Tongue Operated Human Machine Interface

For interfacing with machines, most of us use our hands and fingers. When you don’t have use of your hands (permanently or temporarily), there are limited alternatives. [Dorothee Clasen] has added one more option, [In]Brace, which is basically a small slide switch that you can operate with your tongue.

[In]Brace consists of a custom moulded retainer for the roof of your mouth, on which is a small ball with an embedded magnet, that slides long wire tracks. Above the track is a set of three magnetic sensors, that can detect the position of the ball. On the prototype, a wire from the three sensors run out of the corner of the users mouth, to a wireless microcontroller (Which looks to us like a ESP8266) hooked behind the user’s ear. In a final product, it would obviously be preferable if everything were sealed in the retainer. We think there is even more potential if one of the many 3-axis hall effect sensors are used, with a small joystick of rolling ball. The device could be used by disabled persons, for physical therapy, or just for cases where a person’s hands are otherwise occupied. [Dorothy] created a simple demonstration, where she plays Pong, or Tong in this case, using only the [In]Brace. Hygiene and making sure that it doesn’t somehow become a choke hazard will be very important if this ever became a product, but we think there is some potential.

[Kristina Panos] did a very interesting deep dive into the tongue as an HMI device a while ago, so this isn’t a new idea, but the actual implementations differ quite a lot. Apparently it’s also possible to use your ear muscles as an interface!

Thanks for the tip [Itay]!

Inputs Of Interest: Tongues For Technology

Welcome to the first installment of Inputs of Interest. In this column, we’re going to take a look at various input devices and methods, discuss their merits, give their downsides a rundown, and pontificate about the possibilities they present for hackers. I’ll leave it open to the possibility of spotlighting one particular device (because I already have one in mind), but most often the column will focus on input concepts.

A mouth mouse can help you get your input issues licked. Via @merchusey on Unsplash

Some inputs are built for having fun. Some are ultra-specific shortcuts designed to do work. Others are assistive devices for people with low mobility. And many inputs blur the lines between these three ideas. This time on Inputs of Interest, we’re going to chew on the idea of oral inputs — those driven by the user’s tongue, teeth, or both.

Unless you’ve recently bitten it, burned it, or had it pierced, you probably don’t think much about your tongue. But the tongue is a strong, multi-muscled organ that rarely gets tired. It’s connected to the brain by a cranial nerve, and usually remains undamaged in people who are paralyzed from the neck down. This makes it a viable input-driving option for almost everyone, regardless of ability. And yet, tongues and mouths in general seem to be under-utilized as input appendages.

Ideally, any input device should be affordable and/or open source, regardless of the driving appendage. Whether the user is otherwise able-bodied or isn’t, there’s no reason the device shouldn’t be as useful and beautiful as possible.

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